Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Writing Life in 2012

I love it when a great post comes along that features writing and cars!

Here's a great post from Self Publishing 2.0:
Writing Life in 2012 vs 1986
Posted: 25 Dec 2012 01:34 PM PST
I bought my Dodge Omni in 1986 on my first professional engineering job, shuffling paperwork for a military contractor in New Jersey. It was excruciatingly boring, but I stuck it out five months and left as soon as I could pay back my dad for the down-payment on the car. I mainly remember drinking beer for lunch in the officers club at Fort Monmouth with a retired Army Captain who got me in. He worked for the contractor a couple years while his kid finished High School in the area, after which he planned to start a charter fishing business in Florida. Speaking of water, the image below is the water pump off the Omni which failed after 282,000 miles.
I originally went to engineering school for two reasons, one of which was that I imagined getting a job where I could make or repair all kinds of neat stuff. But the New Jersey job was 100% paperwork, and the next job I was offered (by Raytheon in Boston) was software quality control, just as bad. I turned it down and took a job that paid $5,000/year less because, even though it involved writing computer manuals, they also had technician work for me, building and repairing PCs. I did both jobs by working seven days a week, often 12 hours a day. In the image below, I’ve skim coated the surface of the water pump housing with Permatex gasket maker, as a sealant.
While giving the gasket a chance to set up, I called a friend in Israel to check up on how his job hunt was going. He’s an ex-newspaper editor who worked the last couple years for a charitable foundation arranging education programs in Jerusalem, so if anybody has any job leads for him, let me know. I commented that I’ve been looking for something new to do myself, and when he asked, “Doing what?”, I told him I’ve had more fun the last two days replacing a water pump outside in December than I’ve had publishing this year. He asked, “Can you make a living doing that?” Below I’m positioning the gasket on the water pump housing. Note that the holes line up, but the gasket appears to be for a different version of the housing.
The answer is, I couldn’t make a living as a mechanic, I’m not qualified. If I was looking for a job, I’d make a better Jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) maintenance guy or town engineer (for a desperate town:-) than an on-the-clock mechanic. I’ve never been interested in doing things by the book, I just want it to work. And that’s helped me in publishing whenever something new came along, like the Internet, Print-on-Demand, or eBooks, but once the new field reaches maturity, there’s less room for the seat-of-the-pants types, even if they helped create the business. The image below shows where the pump housing mates with the engine block.
The purpose of a water pump in the car is to keep the coolant moving. It takes in the coolant from the lower radiator hose and pumps it into the engine through the inlet shown above. But the coolant doesn’t flow until the car warms up and the thermostat allows the coolant from the engine, always under pressure from the pump, to flow into the radiator through the top radiator hose. There, it gets cooled by the wind through the radiator (or the fan while idling) and gets pumped back through the engine in an endless journey.
It’s not a bad metaphor for being self employed in publishing, the endless journey part. While some titles are truly evergreen and can persist for decades without little or no updating, most successful self published titles have their time in the sun and then fade away, even if new or revised editions appear. I think part of it is authors like myself who having produced a book that “works” don’t see the point of changing everything in order to meet the latest fashion, use the newest buzz words and fit the current marketing trends. As the water pump below is clearly mismatched to the housing, I see myself and some of my contemporaries having trouble aligning with the current publishing environment.
The picture exaggerates the mismatch, camera angles do that sometimes if you look for them, but in the center-top of the picture you can clearly see the new shiny aluminum pump (and some of the gasket) standing proud of the old housing by as much as a third of an inch. I used the part because there was no way to get another until two days after Christmas. Not surprisingly, it leaked a little after running for a half-hour, and I suspect it’s the manufacturer’s idea of a universal replacement that bolts up on several versions of Chrysler 2.2 liter and 2.5 liter engines of the era. Being a hack, I just tried over-torquing the bolts that I can still get at with the pump on the car, and I’ll find out on the road tomorrow if that bought me anything. As much as I enjoy working on the car, it’s cold out in December, and the bulk of the job is really removing the alternator and the alternator bracket, which is more work than it sounds.
And that’s good analogy for self publishing as well, because most of the effort ends up going into something other than writing the book. One reason a lot of authors give for staying with an established trade publisher is that they don’t want to do “all that other stuff,” especially dealing with multiple contractors for the editorial and design process. I’ve slowly grown more sympathetic to the specialist approach to publishing for established professionals. But I still think it’s a mistake for newcomers, who are spending serious money on speculation for something they could have tested by publishing a simple Kindle eBook or CreateSpace POD version out of Word.
To stretch for another automotive analogy, you can think of newcomers to self publishing as people with no mechanical knowledge. They take a car to a body shop where they are charged thousands of dollars to smooth out the dents and make it all pretty, only to have the worn out transaxle dissolve into gear soup just before the car breaks into pieces going over a speed bump. Experienced authors have a pretty good idea of how a new title will sell, and that often feeds back into the amount of money the author is willing to invest in production.
None of which has anything to do with the fact that I wish I owned a barn or a garage where I could spend a chunk of day tinkering, but I suppose if I expect people to read my self publishing blog I have to say something about publishing from time to time. And I do think I’ve arrived at the interesting truth that in publishing, as in so many other fields, some of us are better at developing new businesses than in growing or exploiting them. My own track record suggests that I’d be better off working on the next thing in publishing than on trying to compete with more polished writers and publishers. Maybe I’ll think of something with the New Year.
And a free at-a-boy to anybody who can spot the major hack in the last photo.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is a poster I take with me to the car shows, and to my book signings. Cami is a real car, my 1979 Camaro Rally Sport. Unlike the Cami in my Rhetta McCarter mystery series,  the real Cami is only equipped with a V-8 305, the engine she was born with. That will change this winter. The 305 is smoking and my number one mechanic, Jeff,  thinks it needs a ring job. So into the shop Cami will go.
While she won't be getting a Corvette LS 1 like in the books, she will be getting a bored-over small block 350 and a new transmission to go with it. Those horses will definitely pick 'em up and put 'em down.
To add to the fun, Cami will also get an air conditioner so I can enjoy her more. The original Cami didn't have AC-- not fun in these hot Missouri summers. While Cami will be in the garage, she'll also be getting a few other new things-- new tail light lenses and a touch up on her white interior. She will come out in the spring, ready for the 2013 Show Season, and for me to enjoy her!
I was pleased to get an email the other day from Linda Rima, a lady after my own heart who also loves muscle cars. Her preference is the Mustang, and I gotta admit, I love 'em too! Linda put the muscle car feeling she got from Rhetta quite nicely."Thanks so much for a wonderful trip down muscle car memory lane.  I truly wish I had one of those Mustangs now.  Every woman should have a V8 once in her life!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

Are you changing oil too often?

I’ve owned all kinds of cars and trucks in the many years that I’ve been driving. I’ve owned shop vans, pickup trucks, SUV’s and sports cars. Back in the “old” days, like when I was driving my new 1976 Camaro, (pictured here in 1976) I changed the oil faithfully every 3,000 miles.
However, today’s engines are much more technical, and therefore must require oil changes at least as frequently as the older cars did in their day, Right?  After all, anyone who has ever popped the hood on the family sedan has to admit, if they’re truthful, that all that intimidating sophisticated motor under the hood appears mind-numbing, to say the least, and therefore, more than ever, we must change the oil. After all, all the quick change lube places put a sticker on our windshields to help us remember.
What if the only driving you do is sedate, going- to-and- coming-home-from-work driving? Or taking the kids to school and to school functions? And maybe a side trip to Aunt Helen’s for Thanksgiving?
According to, a reliable auto website, we may be victims of our own paranoia, and spending way more money on oil changes that the manufacturer recommends.
When in doubt, read the owners’ manual for guidance, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
And read the interesting link:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mysteries and Bucket Lists

I often hear folks talking or discussing stuff they want or wanted to do on their personal Bucket List. Personally, I have so much on my Bucket List that I can never kick the bucket because there will be too much left un-accomplished. (That’s why I have a long list.)

However, up near the top, was a desire to see my books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. I got this done over the weekend, thanks to a persistent young man at our local B & N who was able to order my books in for a signing, and accord me the honor of seeing my books, KILLERWATT and KILLERFIND on a shelf for sale at B & N. I was as excited as a four year old wanting to see Santa.

My Christmas came early this year.
What's on your Bucket List?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday's Muscle Car

This is a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am which belongs to my son, Jeff. He has owned it for (mumble, mumble) years, and most of that time it was torn apart, with most of the components and millions of parts stored in boxes in the garage. Jeff has meticulously put this 4 speed car back together with a Buick 455 motor, all new custom interior, and lots of extras that were never on the original. The final step to road ready  is painting and replacing the interior. Here it is fresh out of the paint booth. Soon, I'll post pictures of the final product! (A black Trans Am like this one makes an appearance in Killerwatt)
This is a second generation Firebird, Trans Am. And for those of you burning to know what that is:

The second generation appeared for the 1970 model year as a mid-year introduction on February 26, 1970 - but was officially designated by Pontiac as a 1970 model, not a 1970 1/2 as many sources have reported through the years. Replacing the coke bottle was a more swoopy body style, with the top of the rear window line going almost straight down to the lip of the trunk lid. This body style was the longest-serving, initially with a large C-pillar until 1975; from that year, the rear window was enlarged. A substantial slant-nose facelift came in 1977, redone in 1979. From 1977 to 1981, the Firebird used four square headlamps, while the Camaro retained the two round headlights that had previously been shared by both cars.
The Firebird Trans Am with the 455 engine was the last high-performance muscle engine of the original muscle car generation. The 455 engine first made its appearance in 1971 as the 455-HO. In 1973 and 1974, a special version of the 455, called the SD-455, was offered. The SD-455 used the left over components from Pontiac's 366 NASCAR engine and was built as a full bore racing engine producing over 540 horsepower and was then toned down to appease the EPA and to meet GM's strict horsepower policy which required all GM vehicles to hold the HP to under 300. As a result, the PMD engineers listed the SD-455 at 290 hp but in reality, was producing in final form, 371 hp SAE NET (Approx 440 gross horsepower). What made this engine unique was the ease with which it could be returned to its 500+ horsepower form. The SD-455 is often considered the last of the true muscle car engines and, by many, considered to be the most powerful factory Pontiac engine ever produced. Pontiac offered the 455 for a few more years, but tightening restrictions on vehicle emissions guaranteed its demise. The 1976 Trans Am was the last of the "Big Cube Birds" with only 7,100 units made with the 455 engine.
The 1981 Turbo Trans Am featured a 4.9L Turbocharged V8 Engine known as the 301T

Sunday, November 25, 2012

This weekend I've been in a post-Thanksgiving haze. The holiday was quiet, and I really didn't even overeat. It's just that I so enjoyed having three or four days off that I pattered around the house doing all sorts of things when I should have been writing. My third book, KILLERTRUST, is supposed to be out after the first of the year, and if I don't get to writing, I won't make my deadline.
Thanksgiving day was absolutely beautiful here in Southeast Missouri, so I felt compelled to get Cami out of the garage and take her for a spin. Cami, for those who haven't read my Rhetta McCarter mysteries, KILLERWATT and KILLERFIND, is a 1979 Camaro Rally Sport. My protagonist borrows her for her adventures.
Cami performed beautifully as I cruised up and down the two lane roads that serve our rural county. I waved to lots of folks, because Cami turns a lot of heads.
I reluctantly put her back in her garage at sundown, and headed for the house, my two cats and my sweet little Yorkie. My husband, Bill, also sweet, was spending the same time with his sisters and all their children in South Carolina.
The house was mine alone and I reveled in it.
Monday it's back to work in the real world.
But my time off was terrific.